The designation brings the department into an elite group of law enforcement agencies statewide.
“It means the department has been recognized statewide for the quality and excellence of our policies and procedures,” said city Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens. “This department is in the top echelon of quality, service, professionalism, policies and procedures.”
Just 25 percent of law enforcement agencies statewide have earned the designation from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
Accreditation, according to the state agency, is a “progressive and contemporary way” of helping police agencies evaluate and improve their overall performance and provides formal recognition that an organization “meets or exceeds general expectations of quality in the field.”
The department formally received the designation on Sept. 3.
To pass the finish line, the department had to meet 110 standards designed to ensure the department adheres to current policing best practices.
The years-long process required the department to undertake a comprehensive policy review governing everything from high-speed pursuits, roadblocks, use of force, body cameras, handling evidence and “unusual occurrences,” among other procedures.
Officers were required to take scenario-based modules as part of the training that accompanied the process.
While the department had been eyeing the designation for years, Chief Eric Clifford renewed the effort when he took over leadership of the department in 2016.
Assistant Chief Michael Seber and Lieut. James Sanders took the lead on shepherding the department through the process.
“Today is a proud day for the Schenectady Police Department, both for active members and retired members who contributed to the process of becoming accredited,” Clifford said.
Police brass and city officials gathered outside of City Hall on Thursday morning to celebrate the designation, a much-needed boost for a department that has been under intense scrutiny for four months as it navigates the ongoing national reckoning on racism and police brutality.
Anger continues to simmer among Black Lives Matter activists following an encounter between a city police officer and suspect in July that ended with the officer kneeling on the suspect’s head and neck area while punching him several times in the torso.
As the fallout continues, the Schenectady PBA is attempting to partially block the city from releasing of some elements of Officer Brian Pommer’s personnel file, which may lead to a precedent-setting court ruling with broad statewide ramifications.
And despite the lengthy accreditation process, the department must now further refine its policies and procedures, this time with community input, as part of an executive order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in June.
Meetings were scheduled to begin next week.
However, due to the sluggish pace from community stakeholders in selecting representatives to participate in the upcoming forums — including business, education and religious leaders — the timeline has been pushed back.
“We’re looking at maybe mid-October,” Clifford said on Thursday. “The timeline that was originally created was purposely conservative to start early and give us a break between Thanksgiving and the New Year knowing that we might not meet that start date.”
Clifford aims to conclude discussions by Jan. 1 before shifting to determining how the community feedback can be forged into concrete policy.
The City Council must adopt the changes by April 1 at the risk of losing state funding.
“We don’t wait to wait until we’re right on top of the deadline and then rush it through,” said city Councilwoman Marion Porterfield. “So I really think we need to start having these meetings and having people submit their ideas and suggestions.”
The steering community guiding the process met on Wednesday.
Clifford sees those discussions as part of a broader community conversation that will continue once the state-mandated process has concluded, and ultimately envisions hosting several town hall-style events.
“I believe that there’s more than just one group of people that have concerns about policing in this community, and we want to give every group the opportunity to speak about what’s important to them,” Clifford said.
The department is navigating both the reform process and ramifications from the Pommer altercation — which has already prompted several reforms, including a ban on knee-to-neck holds — as it steers towards choppy fiscal waters as a result of the financial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
This spring, Mayor Gary McCarthy initially floated cutting up to 25 percent of the department’s 160 uniformed officers.
While layoffs were averted after the mayor ordered departments to wrangle in overtime and received the green light from City Council to borrow up to $7 million, McCarthy has declined to discuss long-term prospects until he releases his preliminary budget proposal on Oct. 1.
The department on Thursday also publicly swore in officers who were promoted over the summer.
The promotion of Daryl Mallard to assistant chief marks the first time someone has been elevated to the position in 19 years. Mallard’s predecessor, Assistant Chief Jack Falvo, retired in February.
Mallard, who will lead the department’s Field Services Bureau, has been with the department since 2003.
“We’ve supported each other through some very trying times,” Clifford said.
Michael Dalton and Adam Nowicki have been promoted to lieutenants, while Matthew LaPointe and James Plowden have each been elevated to sergeant.
“What we’ve done is selected key leaders for the future of the department,” Eidens said.